Sean Closes the Vocabulary Gap

Sean Closes the Vocabulary Gap

Ta’allum Education’s key focus on literacy continues to develop pace across the schools. During the past year Sean Dennis, now Primary Deputy Head at Al Maha Academy for Boys, has successfully developed practical strategies for Secondary teachers to increase the range of students’ vocabulary. The work was part of Sean’s research project in the National Professional Qualification for Senior Leaders, a prestigious British qualification, which he has undertaken during this past year whilst in post at Al Jazeera Academy.

Sean’s project was founded on the international research of Alex Quigley. In his paper ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’ Quigley estimated that an accomplished native speaker has a vocabulary exceeding 50,000 words. With considerably less words than this students will have difficulties in accessing the curriculum.

In Sean’s work, staff in each subject area identified commonly used key words and the ‘metalanguage’ which, if explicitly taught, will accelerate students’ learning.  The project followed some identified phases commencing with ‘Embedding’ the words by applying them in lesson starters and mini- Plenaries. This was followed by the ‘Exploring’ phase in which students are challenged to deepen their understanding by exploring the ‘root’ of different words. The remaining ‘Consolidation’ phase focused on ‘out of lesson’ and Home Learning.

Al Jazeera students were aided by trained teacher mentors in vocabulary activities. Using a range of selected words, students created a new brochure for younger pupils moving up to Secondary from their Primary school and a ‘Welcome to Qatar’ introductory brochure for new staff. The project provided significant gains in literacy measures.

Sean reflected on the valuable experience of his NPQSL learning. ‘This project has helped us to better understand the key challenges for students in learning a second language. Improving literacy will mean improved student outcomes.’

Dr Mohammed Saefan, Ta’allum’s Director of Education said ‘Literacy is our prime focus for learning at Ta’allum. Every teacher is a teacher of literacy whatever their subject. Access to the language of each subject is vital to students’ success in school and all that it unlocks of the world. Literacy is a determining factor for the students we teach.’

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